Tim Schutz was kind enough to send me a free deck of his Alpha Playing Cards for review. Tim has done some great work, and his focus on gaming systems rather than just games is very appealing.
An Alpha deck consists of 74 cards - 42 consonant cards, 30 vowel cards (each vowel card has two vowels printed on it), and 2 wild cards. You can purchase a deck from tjgames, or print one out for yourself. There is a similar mass-market game called Quiddler that is similar, but I find the card distribution and extensibility better in Alpha.
I have played several different games with Alpha with adults and kids. It has already become a staple filler game for our family. My 2 sons (ages 6 and 8) enjoy some of the simpler games, and we’ve found interesting variations of the games that allow us to handicap the adults to let the kids be more competitive. Let’s discuss a few of the games.
This is a great, open-ended game for kids where the victory conditions can be tuned and tweaked to suit the audience. 7-10 cards (more cards make the game easier) are dealt to the middle of the playing area, and players alternate making the best word possible from the inventory. The cards are refreshed after each player makes a word. The winner can be determined by points, funniest word, word with most consonants, etc. This one is Matthew’s (6) favorite.
A solitaire game in which you try and use up all of the cards in a 6x6 grid. This solitaire game is the better of the two - I found there were more choices to make and strategic elements than in WordSolitaire.
This is modeled on the game War played with standard playing cards. The deck is split in two, and players alternate dropping cards in the center of the table. Once three cards are on the table, a player can either make a word or pass. When a player makes a word, she gets to keep the cards. The goal is to capture all of the cards. Matthew enjoys this one as well.
This is an unusual game and one I expect to play more. There are no turns - play happens in real-time - it reminds me of some of the Icehouse games. Each player is dealt 13 cards, and a central pool of 9 cards is placed in the center of the table. The dealer calls “1,2,3, GO!” and players proceed to try and build a word snake - words with at least 3 letters, where each successive word begins with the last letter of the previous word. Play ends when a player uses all of their cards and calls “Stop!”, or when all players pass. Players score points for letters in words, and lose points for leftover letters. The game is tense, frenetic, and fun.
This is rummy for Alpha cards. Melds are made by making words of 4 letters or more, with bonus multipliers for longer words. You can also play cards on existing words to make new words. My wife Julie and I played this one and had a blast - we expect to play it again.
If you would like a “portable Scrabble” that can be played quickly and is easier to teach kids, get this game! I strongly recommend it for educators and home schoolers. The price is right and you might even enjoy designing your own games.